Toys for Tots distribution stops curious shoppers

LIHU’E — An unsuspecting shopper thought he had stumbled on a large bicycle and tricycle sale yesterday at the Ace Hardware/Ben Franklin Crafts store on Rice Street in Lihu’e.

“Are they going on sale?” a shopper wanted to know.

When he found out the toys being amassed in a tent outside the store were destined for needy Kaua’i children and to be distributed by officials with The Salvation Army through the Toys For Tots program, he scratched his head and said, “It’s good. Never had things like this when I was young.”

Over 130 bicycles and tricycles, an assortment of skateboards, helmets, a variety of radios and CD players and cameras, kept pouring out of the warehouse area to fill the tent as members of the U.S. Marine Corps League-Kauai hosted their annual distribution of merchandise collected during the Toys For Tots campaign.

“One lady wanted to donate,” said a retired Marine as he wheeled out tricycles. “But she said she’ll come back Saturday with bicycles instead.”

Kaylah Santos couldn’t resist the growing collection of bicycles as she plopped herself onto a lavender trike under the watchful eye of Che Weaver, another shopper who added, “I hope that’s not on her Christmas list.”

“This is more than last year,” said U.S. Marine Corps League Kauai member Gene Redden. Captain Mitham Clement of The Salvation Army agreed.

“This will help about 15 agencies, and over 100 families,” Clement said. “This has been an incredible year.”

The first phase of their holiday distribution will start this Friday, Dec. 16, when agency representatives will gather at the Lihu’e Corps of The Salvation Army to fulfill their holiday lists. Individual families will have their distribution on Wednesday, Dec. 21.

Clement said that, each year, the amount of people needing help increases, but this year, he noted that the amount of help they received also increased.

In the spirit of giving, Jarett Chytka, the manager at the Kmart store, paused from his routine of wheeling bicycles and lugging cartons to announce that the Kmart store will be hosting their Shop With A Cop program on Thursday, Dec. 22.

The program involves over 50 needy Kaua’i keiki receiving $50 Kmart gift cards and, following a breakfast hosted by leaders at the Kmart store, will be accompanied by Kaua’i Police Department officers as they get to select something from their holiday wish list.

“This is part of a district program,” Chytka said. “A lot of the credit should go to the police department who will be here. Our staff will help them with items and locations, but the police officers will be doing the shopping with the children.”

Also on hand to help with yesterday’s distribution at the Ace Hardware/Ben Franklin Craft store was Wal-Mart manager Janie Whitehead.

Frank Kleckner of the U.S. Marine Corps League-Kauai noted that, in previous years, the volunteers had to assemble the bikes in the Ace Hardware warehouse, but this year, Wal-Mart leaders stepped forward and offered to do all the assembly, saving volunteers consider able amounts of time.

“I get a lot out of this,” said Kleckner, who spearheaded the effort. “I get to talk with all the kids, wish them a Merry Christmas, and meet all the people coming out to shop.

“On Christmas Eve, I sit by my tree and think about all the children who are enjoying all the things contributed by the people. I get a lot out of this,” he reaffirmed.

And he’s not done yet.

Today he’ll be out at Pacific Missile Range Facility, helping members of the First Class Petty Officers Association load two more planeloads of toys onto a Salvation Army truck.

Members of the PMRF First Class Petty Officers Association have been helping members of the U.S. Marine Corps League-Kauai collect toys outside Kmart and Wal-Mart. The organzation used to coordinate the islandwide Toys For Tots drive until around five years ago, when the U.S. Marine Corps League-Kauai members took over.

Kleckner’s version of the No Child Left Behind Act is also to make sure teenagers aren’t forgotten about in the Toys For Tots drive, he continued.

In addition to coordinating the collection and distribution of the bikes and toys, members of the U.S. Marine Corps League-Kauai also get to go shopping for needy Kaua’i teenagers, said Kleckner.

“Everybody forgets the teenagers,” he said of donors who give dolls, toys for infants, and other toys basically designed for the youngest of the needy Kauaians.

This year, Kleckner and crew have collected enough money to be able to purchase $25 gift cards for 80 teenagers, so they can buy whatever presents or items they feel they most need or want for themselves, he added.

Workers at the Hawaiian Telcom retail store at Kukui Grove Center are accepting new, unwrapped toys now through this Sunday, Dec. 18, for the Toys For Tots program.

They have joined forces with members of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and KHNL/KFVE to collect toys for the annual Toys For Tots drive that provides toys to needy children.

“Hawaiian Telcom is proud and very happy to be a sponsor of the Toys For Tots drive, and to work with good community partners like the U.S. Marines, who have made this drive so successful every year,” said Joel Matsunaga, Hawaiian Telcom vice president of external affairs.

Toy-givers will receive special coupons good for $5 off the purchase of all Hawaiian Telcom merchandise, he explained.

The coupons expire Saturday, Dec. 31, and cannot be used to pay a Hawaiian Telcom bill, he noted.

On Monday, Dec. 19, members of the U.S. Marine Corps League-Kauai will pick up the toys from the Kukui Grove Center Hawaiian Telcom store, for distribution to needy Kaua’i children.

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